March 2020. “Some of the false morels are dangerously poisonous,” Aurora warns.
Morels may be the most elusive mushrooms in Santa Barbara County.
“Morels can be extremely difficult to see,” David Aurora writes in All That The Rain Promises And More.
Indeed. They’re probably the most camouflaged and well-hidden mushroom around this neck of the woods other than those found underground. The morel’s neutral and earthy hues combined with its intricate prismatic combed form can, at times, make it impossible to discern from the surrounding forest litter.
I find it amusing how easily and thoroughly these little mushrooms can deceive the most intelligent brains on the planet in Homo sapiens. We’re not as smart as we’d like to think.
Moreover, as Aurora notes, morel mycelia “tend to be short-lived, so new ‘patches’ must be found every year.” Mycelia are the vegetative portion of the fungus from which bloom the mushrooms we call morels.
While that is not exactly true, that new patches must be found each and every year, it nevertheless appears to be the case in Santa Barbara County that morels only bloom again from the same patch of ground for two or perhaps three seasons at best before disappearing in latter years never to be seen again.
This stands in contrast to other mushrooms which may be picked in the exact same place for many years and sometimes for decades.
“These factors combine to make morel hunting especially challenging and competitive,” Aurora writes.
Aurora writes in jest about the “demorelizing experience of tramping through the forest for hours, weeks, months, or even years without finding a single one. Only by being skunked repeatedly can you savor the sweetness of ultimate success!”
Or as Nixon advised, “. . .because the greatness comes not when things go always good for you, but the greatness comes and you are really tested, when you take some knocks, some disappointments, when sadness comes, because only if you have been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.”
The first morel I ever found in my life was growing deep in the Santa Barbara backcountry, as mentioned in this previous post nine years ago: Nira to Upper Oso: An Early San Rafael Experience
I was a teenager and had been out on the trail for several days when, while trudging up a rain-swollen upper Sisquoc River after hard rain the day before that had forced us to take shelter inside the old South Fork Sisquoc cabin, I glanced over and spied the conical combed cap sticking up out from a jumble of flotsam in the river bed.
Well over a decade would pass before I spotted another morel.
The second mushroom I saw while walking back from surfing a point break along Gaviota Coast, while talking with a friend; the dude featured riding one hell of a tube in this previous post: Gabe Surfing Sandbar, Hurricane Marie 8-27-14
We were talking and I glanced to my side for no particular reason and there the morel stood growing from a clump of ice plant. I haven’t talked to him in a long time. I wonder if he remembers.
Another two decades, give or take, would pass before I found more morels.
“Mushroom hunting can teach us a lot about the larger world,” Andrew Weil writes in Aurora’s book. “A common experience of mushroom hunters is not being able to see a particular mushroom when they first try to collect it. It’s not a question of visual acuity, but pattern recognition.”
He goes on to tell a short story about a woman that once spent hours searching the forest for morels. After failing to see any sign of a morel, she dropped to her knees and began sifting through the leaf litter. Just as she was about to admit failure and give up, she saw a single morel. Then, a moment later, she look about and discovered that she was surrounded by hundreds of the them.
“A useful lesson can be drawn from this,” Weil writes. “Our brain acts as a filter, screening out what it doesn’t consider significant. . .The larger principle is that what we experience is determined by what we are able to perceive.”
After several decades of mushroom hunting there are still times when out in the woods I look and search and see no mushrooms anywhere. And then just as I am about to give up suddenly a mushroom seems to appear out of thin air. Then suddenly I find a bunch right before me I had somehow not been able to perceive.
Such experiences may make a forest gadabout wonder just how much else apart from mushrooms they may be overlooking and missing when out there in the woods and how much richer their personal experiences may be if’n they could just see what it is they are actually looking at.
I explored this idea of perception an understanding in greater detail in a previous post: Wild Oyster Mushrooms and Reading the Nuances of Nature.
Weil writes that these sorts of experiences leads him to believe we should accept or at least consider other people’s experiences we may otherwise find fantastic, like telepathy or precognition.
“Otherwise we could live in a forest full of morels and never see them.”